Cory Laws, Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator for the Town of Herndon, stands where a large tree crashed through a homeowner's fence. He used resources established through his position to take care of the tree, fence and hopefully begin other repairs needed for the home. "The big problem is resources, and I don't have any," said Laws.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
The Town of Herndon is taking a step to preserve its affordable and workforce housing alternatives by participating in the Neighborhood Improvement Program meant to help owners maintain their homes' structure, appearance and value. However, while Cory Laws holds the two-year position as the Town's Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator, he is concerned. The Neighborhood Improvement Program funded his salary, but as Laws said, "There is no funding for anything else."
Laws’ purpose now is to seek corporate funding to pay costs associated with repairs.
The position Laws holds remained vacant the last three years pending Fairfax County grant funding support. In response to explain the job's funding sources, an official town spokesperson provided the statement: "Fairfax County provides up to $90,000, but only certain activities are covered, so the Town incurs some cost. The Fairfax portion is covered by Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the Federal Government."
According to HUD, CDBG is a flexible program that provides local jurisdictions power to distribute federal funds directly to nonprofit and public agencies that support housing and public service programs. The program works to "ensure decent affordable housing" and is "an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities," stated the HUD website.
NONE OF THIS may have mattered though to a senior citizen in the Town of Herndon when a tree recently crashed into her fence, and its roots cracked the floor of her home's foundation. What did matter was that someone was there to help. That person was Cory Laws in his new town position. Working with others, Laws said that he had that tree and another removed, fixed the fence and is planning additional home repairs. While the homeowner did not respond to a request for comment, Laws said she expressed her thanks to him and quoted her as saying, "At last I have hope."
The Neighborhood Improvement Program is based on the income level of a family. According to Laws, there is a primary metric called AMI or Area Median Income. "For any family, up to 80 percent of that number, their home automatically qualifies. Currently, the program is for owner-occupied housing only. Not apartments, but condos and townhouses are included," Laws said.
The Town has released the Job Description for Laws' position. "The incumbent works independently toward neighborhood stabilization and preservation of affordable and workforce housing alternatives. The position is responsible for outreach to property owners, community associations, lending institutions, construction contractors and other entities. The purpose of the outreach is to facilitate renovation and reinvestment to maintain affordable and accessible housing opportunities."
David Stromberg, the Town's zoning administrator, oversees Laws’ position. Laws represents a "proactive force" for town homeowners, "helping them avoid town code violations before they happen through focus on property maintenance and upkeep," said Stromberg.
Laws said he experienced three main challenges as he worked to fulfill the responsibilities listed in the Job Description. The first two challenges he identified, “awareness and trust.” Laws said he understood if no one knew he was here and what he was doing, nothing would have happened. Laws’ his outreach efforts led to the creation of "a viable program.” Working with other support organizations, "specifically, nonprofits, such as Cornerstones, Rebuilding Together, Team Rubicon and such,” Laws said facilitated trust.
"The big problem is resources, and I don't have any," said Laws. "People say to me, ‘You are out here by yourself?’ And the answer is, pretty much by myself," he said. “I am akin to an orchestra conductor who has to find individual musicians, invents the play, possibly writes the music and get other people to give me a venue to perform.
"Funding is now needed to pay for skilled individuals and tradespeople to make repairs. I am seeking corporate funding to pay costs associated with the repairs," said Laws. "I need to provide services, either free or paid. Free services are not typically on demand. I need one to three team members to do specific tasks, sometimes on an emergency basis," he said.
How Can We Help You?
The Town of Herndon issued a flyer, in both English and Spanish, titled How Can We Help You?
“The Town of Herndon's Neighborhood Improvement Program is designed to assist homeowners in maintaining their homes' structure, appearance and value:
Wood rot repairs
Window and door caulking
Wall and ceiling repairs
Water heater inspection and replacement
Air filter replacement...and more.
We can also help negotiate with contractors, research available grants, and help secure low-cost financing."
FOR MORE INFORMATION on the Neighborhood Resource Program, as a funding sponsor, support organization or skilled tradesman, and about the program itself, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-787-7380.